Street life is all academic for Kidulthood star Femi Oyeniran
- Credit: Archant
A spokesman for youth culture who studied law, actor Femi Oyeniran has written and directed a new film, It’s a Lot, discovers Alex Bellotti
Carluccio’s did seem an odd choice. As the actor behind Moony, the knife-wielding, pot-smoking street teen of Kidulthood, a St John’s Wood Italian patisserie didn’t quite feel in line with Femi Oyeniran’s on-screen persona.
“Oh, I thought you were the one who suggested it,” he says as we sit down. It seems the PR representative recently enlisted to promote Oyeniran’s new film, It’s A Lot, has played us both. However, as we start to talk, I realise the 26-year-old does indeed hold more surprises than the average actor.
“I always wanted to be a barrister,” Oyeniran explains, adopting a variation of smart casual with shirt, cardigan and matching navy baseball cap.
“People said I was argumentative as a kid and, being from an African background, I was encouraged to go into the great professions, doctors, lawyers, you know the sort. I always liked drama too, but I never knew anyone who had made a career out of it. When I met Noel Clarke [of Kidulthood and Doctor Who fame], it was actually the first time I’d talked to anyone who’d been on TV.”
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His words aren’t carefully designed exaggerations to flesh out a back-story. A graduate of the London School of Economics, Oyeniran had to balance his first year of studying law with the 2006 release of Kidulthood, a hormone and adrenaline-fuelled urban blockbuster that sent him down a career path he’d never thought possible.
“When I auditioned for that film, I was doing my A-Level in drama and thought I’d just try out for the experience. I’m from a working class background so it was very easy to portray that character. Me and Adam Deacon - a great actor - we knew all the street slang and were only portraying the life we saw around us.”
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In reality, Oyeniran has never been involved in that life himself. A near-straight A student from St Aloysius’ College in Highgate, he has long prized education and was often found revising between takes during the filming of Kidulthood. In the case of one exam, despite missing school, he came away with the best grade in his class.
Perhaps this explains why in It’s A Lot, which Oyeniran also wrote and directed, he clearly has fun playing a “nerd” who haphazardly tries to reinvent himself as a fun-loving, hip-hop playboy.
“People like to tell this fantasy story about how, if you’re young, black and working class, you’re part of a gang. It’s not true, not for me or any of my friends. I came from a good family, got good grades and went to a great university. The fact that you’re from a certain background or a certain type of school doesn’t make you a certain type of person.”
Considering Moony would most likely be one of the problem children on the government’s hit list, Oyeniran has become accustomed to acting as a spokesman for young people.
Alongside three other friends, he hosts an online talk show called Cut The Chat, which he describes as “Loose Women, but with four young black guys sitting around in somewhere like a barbershop”. While that show covers a spectrum of issues, from entertainment to politics, Oyeniran has also spoken specifically about “thug” culture, most notably alongside David Cameron in 2006.
“I remember that event, it was one of these Iain Duncan Smith think-tanks. David Cameron was saying my name like he was my best friend – I’d never even met the guy.
“It was cool to share the stage, though, and really talk about these problems. A lot of people say kids today are worse than they ever have been, but there’s always been bad press. The only difference now is that coverage is being magnified by the internet. Kids in the past were still in gangs – look at the mods, they even had dress codes.”
This social consciousness increased during Oyeniran’s time at university, which he believes fulfilled a part of him that acting couldn’t. The complex theories and essays tackling law and politics even influenced the scripts he started writing after graduation.
It’s A Lot in many ways is meant to be a “bubblegum” party flick, inspired by Risky Business and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and designed to be an easy comedic entry into the world of cinema. Yet there are still societal undertones – all of the film’s net profits will be donated to the ACLT, a charity that aims to increase the low number of ethnic minorities on the bone marrow register. This problem is also addressed in the film itself.
Oyeniran is also working on another screenplay, New Black Sheep, which covers the “socio-economic impact” of the Tottenham riots and “how the odds are rigged against the lower strata of society.” It is a wonder he is able to consider what goes on outside the walls of his Abbey Road home at such lengths when inside, there is even more going on.
“I’ve been married for two years now and have two sons, two beautiful boys who I love so much. They’re great motivation, they make me want to achieve, to leave a legacy and provide for them.
“When you think about it, you don’t need that much money to survive as an individual. As long as there’s nice juice in the fridge and food on the table, I’ll be fine. Although I would like a sponsorship from Adidas. I want a Nando’s black card too actually, put that in. I will promote you non-stop Nando’s, just give me the chance.”
Reflecting upon the chances of It’s A Lot, which is released on October 25, Oyeniran is relaxed and simply hopes it will give him the chance to make a second film. It is just about getting the experience, he says, preaching patience and noting that few his age are attempting anything as ambitious in the movie business.
“In this film, the kids set up a charity, but manage it in a really silly, hip-hop kind of way. I think one journalist commented that this kind of depiction of charity was unpleasant, but I mean, is that really the worst thing he’s seen in film today?
“The movie’s got no knife crime, no scenes with people getting killed or beaten up. Getting shot – now that’s unpleasant. No-one bats an eyelid when they see it on screen though. I do sometimes wonder what that says about modern attitudes.”
It’s A Lot will premiere at VUE, Leicester Square on 25th October